I remember leading my first canoe trip as a young 21-year-old volunteer in the high school ministry at my church. The previous year, I had gone on a canoe trip and barely survived navigating the wild currents of the Owens River in central California.

Because of my “experience” I was selected to lead the current trip which included training 14 high schoolers on how to paddle their canoes without killing themselves. When we arrived at Camp after a long drive, we had a rustic dinner around the campfire. The next morning, I grabbed my paddle and trained everybody on everything I knew about canoeing. This took about two minutes.

We put our canoes in the river and paddled, floated, and swam until we reached the camp where we would be spending the night. We pulled our canoes on to the grassy beach and circled them around the fire pit. After a tasty burnt hot dog dinner, we all gathered around the campfire and I taught a sermon titled “Putting Jesus First.” It was one of those sermons where I thought “Wow I really nailed that one.” (Looking back this was totally prideful on my part.)

As a new volunteer, I really wanted to see the kids connect with Jesus and I thought this sermon would clobber them into the kingdom. After our closing prayer I announced “Hey let’s hit our sleeping bags!” Just then, a girl and a guy quickly sat up from where they were laying down behind a canoe. They had bits of dirt and grass in their hair and I will never forget the startled look on their faces. I had no idea they were getting busy (making out) behind that canoe the whole time I was leading my “awesome sermon.”

My mouth hung open as I recognized the girl as our pastor’s daughter. The guy worked part-time as a janitor at our church. How could I let this happen?! I was so focused on teaching ‘the perfect sermon’ that I didn’t even notice that my pastor’s daughter was getting busy behind a canoe. They were both 17. I talked with them privately and they were ashamed and apologetic for their behavior. I prayed with them and we went on with our canoe trip.

About a month later, I received a wedding invitation from the couple. The wedding was joyous and you could tell that they really loved each other and loved God. They were both involved in the church and involved in ministry as a young couple. Approximately 9 months after the canoe trip, they had a beautiful baby girl. 

// Fast forward 15 years //

I’m standing on the backstairs of my church with the clipboard in my hand, checking in kids as they board the van for yet another canoe trip I was leading. As I was standing there, a young freshman girl came up to check in. As I checked her name off the list, I realized she was the daughter that may have been conceived on the canoe trip 15 years earlier. (Did she know? I thought it best not to bring that up to her.) For the next two days it was great to see how much she really loved the Lord and how thankful she was to be part of a Christian family that was involved in ministry. To me, it was a reminder of how God can turn anything around for our good and for His glory for His unshakable kingdom.